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(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Dozens of Arlington residents are now receiving a supplemental income through a new pilot program.

The nonprofit Arlington Community Foundation, which oversees the outreach, will unconditionally give $500 a month to 200 low-income households for two years. Fifty have been enrolled so far, chosen at random from current Arlington County housing grant recipients.

“This new initiative equips families with funds that can be used for whatever is needed most in real time — paying off debt, pursuing education or employment goals, college savings for kids, or allowing parents more time with their children and less time away from home in a second job,” the foundation said in a news release.

Housing grants from Arlington’s Department of Human Services, part of the criteria for eligibility for the pilot program, are restricted to two-person households earning $43,860 or less, three-person households earning $49,343 or less, and four-person households earning $54,825 or less.

The foundation says the pilot further restricts participants to those at or below 30% of the area median income, which is $38,700 for a family of four.

“One participant, a single mother who works full time, says this assistance will give her the much needed breathing room to finish her GED and attend nursing school,” the foundation says.

The county partnered with the foundation for the initiative, dubbed Arlington’s Guarantee. Participants will have access to one-on-one coaching, and a team of experts will be monitoring participants’ health, wellbeing and financial stability.

People can donate to the fund covering the pilot, which the foundation sees as a resource for future policy outreach and philanthropy.

“Arlington’s Guarantee is an opportunity for donors to support a pilot that holistically and unconditionally promotes power, dignity and belonging for families in Arlington,” the foundation said. All administrative costs have been covered by a grant from the Kresge Foundation, so 100% of what is contributed to this fund will go directly into the hands of people in our community who need it.”

More from the press release:

24,700 people, or about 10,000 households in Arlington, make under 30% of the area median income (AMI), or $38,700 for a family of four. These working low income families rely on a combination of earned income, public benefits, and community support to survive. With even a minor rise in earnings, these families can lose their eligibility for subsidies for health care, food, child care, transportation, and housing, meaning the worker has to refuse raises and promotions that could ultimately leave their family worse off. Arlington’s Guarantee has secured local and state agency commitments to ensure the monthly cash payments do not affect benefits and subsidies eligibility. In addition to $500/month and protection from benefits loss, Arlington Guarantee supports the participants with access to trained mobility teams and one-on-one coaching. 

Similar tests of Universal Basic Income-like programs — though more targeted and on a smaller scale than UBI — have been rolling out elsewhere in the D.C. area and across the country. In nearby Alexandria, the city plans to use $3 million in American Rescue Plan money to provide $500 a month to 150 low-income households, starting on Nov. 1.

According to research conducted on a similar program in California, participants were more likely to land full-time jobs, pay down debt and report better emotional wellbeing.

Photo by Pepi Stojanovski on Unsplash

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Department of Human Services Director Anita Freedman and Deputy Director Deborah Warren (via Arlington County)

The police department is not the only county department with staffing reportedly in steep decline.

The number of emergency behavioral health clinicians in the Department of Human Services is also in free fall, as 13 members of the 26-person staff have departed in the last year, County Manager Mark Schwartz told the County Board during its Tuesday afternoon meeting. Existing staff cannot cover all the shifts and contractors are being used to fill in the gaps.

County officials say these clinical jobs are complex and demanding, have higher expectations and require significant training. In response, folks are leaving for jobs with better benefits and working conditions.

But they also pin this trend on a decision the Commonwealth made this summer to close more than half of its state-run mental hospitals to new admissions amid its own workforce crisis. Without these beds, people in crisis are “warehoused” at Virginia Hospital Center, and in some cases sedated and handcuffed to gurneys, Schwartz said, grimacing.

“We cannot afford not to take action,” said Director of Human Services Anita Friedman. “I have always viewed most of our clinicians, but especially our emergency clinicians, as non-uniformed public safety. They don’t wear badge, or a gun, but they are in as much danger, oftentimes, as public safety without really the same level of benefits. Without a strong emergency services staff, competent and equipped to deal with people, you’ll see an increase in suicide, homicide and all kinds of community problems.”

The short staffing hurts the Arlington County Police Department, as some officers end up spending most of their shifts in the hospital emergency room with these patients, reducing the officers available to respond to calls.

“I know I’m speaking in somewhat dire tones,” Schwartz said. “I feel like the situation is really critical.”

He asked the County Board to consider setting aside $3 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding — intended for Covid-related needs — for bonuses. Schwartz said he wanted to gauge the Board’s support before bringing forward a fully-baked plan.

“We’re fully with you on moving forward with this,” Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “Thank you for bringing this forward. While we want to understand the fiscal details, let’s move forward and address this. There’s a through-line between our police department and our mental health services, and with respect to staffing, that’s what we have to move quickly and the Board is ready to do that with you.”

This situation is coming to a head amid calls from the community and the County Board to transition police officers away from mental health calls. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota last year, Arlington County convened a Police Practices Group, which drafted about 100 ways to reform ACPD, including detangling officers from intervening in these cases.

The approved Fiscal Year 2022 budget even included funding for an enhanced mental health crisis response program.

But now, Police Chief Andy Penn says the police are more entangled with mental health calls than ever.

“We certainly supported where the police department should do less with mental health, but I think we’re doing more than we have in some time,” he said. “The need is to help people get the care and treatment they need, but it is a big, broad conversation that goes beyond the police department.”

In a statement provided to County Board members prior to the meeting, the Arlington Coalition of Police said officers overwhelmingly share the community’s desire to limit the interactions police have with those in mental crisis.

“But as is commonly the case, when the community has a problem few others want to address, it turns to the police,” the statement said.

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Arlington County has received just over $1 million in grants from both the federal government and the state to help fight the opioid epidemic.

The Department of Justice is providing about $900,000 to the county’s Department of Human Services to assist in improving access to treatment, identifying alternatives to incarnation, and to hire two full time staff to further help those being treated for substance abuse.

Virginia is granting $110,000 that will add a contracted nurse position and help continue to train police and DHS staff on techniques to best help those in need of treatment.

The grants will also help purchase more Narcan (Naloxone) kits.

Suzanne Somerville is with the Department of Human Services and will be overseeing how the grants will be used as the Bureau Chief for Residential and Specialized Clinical Services. She says the grants will allow the department to continue to build out programs that focus on harm reduction and “pre-arrest work.”

“[That’s] partnering with police… and working with folks who are having substance use issues,” Somerville says. “Or when they first bring them into the jail, looking to see if we can divert them and send them to treatment instead of incarceration.” 

She says that a large portion of the grants are going to hiring two full-time staff — a case manager and therapist — but a chunk is also going to help with sober living options.

There are four Oxford houses in Arlington, a self-supported program that houses those in recovery. Somerville says that a portion of the grants will help residents pay for these programs.

The opioid epidemic continues to ravage Arlington County. While 2017 remains the county’s worst year for incidents involving opioids, after a downturn in 2018 and 2019, last year saw a resurgence in opioid-related overdoses. There were more opioid related deaths in 2020 than 2018 and 2019 combined.

The pandemic is likely to blame for much of the resurgence.

“There are a lot of reasons why people have relapses,” says Somerville. “A lot of it does have to do with employment. A lot of our clients… work in the service industry and a lot of them lost their jobs.”

And 2021 is looking even more tragic and deadly. Somerville says since January 21, there have been six known overdoses in Arlington County, three of which were fatal.

For many, the first step in asking for help is the hardest. So, the county is attempting to lower the barrier for that.

It has established a confidential “warm line” for folks in crisis that is staffed with peers and those in recovery themselves. The number is 571-302-0327.

“They’ve been through this and they understand what it’s like to try to quit and all of the pressure that comes with it,” says Somerville.

Starting in April, all Arlington fire stations will become “safe stations” where residents can simply walk in and those there will initiate the process of getting them help.

There are also a number of upcoming training sessions for Arlington residents to learn how to administer Narcan.

These grants will assist the county in closing gaps in service, says Somerville, and provide quicker, more complete help to residents in need at a particularly hard time for all.

“It’s our job to help you connect to treatment and help you figure out how you can do better,” she said.

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The 57-year-old Highlander Motor Inn is now closed and will be torn down to make room for a CVS store, owner Billy Bayne tells ARLnow.

The two-story motel at 3336 Wilson Blvd, near Clarendon, has been closed since December. Bayne expects demolition to begin on the building in March and the CVS to open in the fall.

This wasn’t unexpected. Plans have been in place since at least 2016 and permit applications were filed in December 2019.

Nonetheless, it has Bayne looking back fondly on the motel that his family has owned since the early 1960s.

“We have a lifetime of memories there,” says Bayne. He remembers spending time with his father at the motel, shooting baskets in the back, and going to Mario’s Pizza next door. He also remembers when local high schoolers had keg parties in the modestly-appointed rooms.

However, he says the motel shutting down and being demolished is ultimately a good thing.

It’s been increasingly hard to make money in the lodging business over the last two decades, Bayne notes, particularly with the rise of discounted rate websites and Airbnb. Plus, given Arlington business and hotel taxes, small hotels have to charge higher rates to stay afloat, says Bayne.

“[Customers] have a choice to stay at the Highlander or a Marriott for a hundred dollars,” says Bayne. “And I can’t compete against that anymore.”

Bayne says he’s leasing the land to CVS, which will continue to provide a revenue stream for him and his children. Bayne declined to provide monetary specifics about the deal, but did say it’s long-term.

In April, Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services rented out the Highlander as temporary COVID-related housing, providing a financial lifeline during an otherwise rough time for the hotel business.

The motel provided “quarantine/isolation space for low-income individuals who were living in overcrowded or congregate settings, and unable to effectively quarantine or isolate,” a department spokesperson told ARLnow this past summer.

Bayne is effusive in his praise of county officials for working with him, and the fact that they essentially kept the hotel going for another six months. While he charged Arlington a discounted rate, it helped pay the bills.

“[County] workers were all very professional and nice. The county was super,” he says.

The praise is despite years of legal wrangling with Arlington over the development of the property. The legal battles — which Bayne ultimately won after the Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the county — cost him at least $250,000, he says.

But with development finally happening, Bayne’s animosity towards local officials seems to be waning.

“Obviously, I had my differences with them but the county was very good to us,” he says.

Bayne also owns Crystal City Sports Pub and the Crystal City Restaurant gentlemen’s club, which he briefly considered renaming “National Landing Strip” after the relatively new collective term for Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard.

As of the moment, he says changing the business’s name is not on his priority list, while adding that “if Bezos wanted me to do it, I would do it.”

The local restaurateur is thinking about retirement but says the pandemic set him back “a few years.” He’s had to dig into savings and sell stocks to weather the storm and will reevaluate his options once his daughter gets through school.

Meanwhile, he’s remembering and expressing gratitude to those that have kept the motel going through the decades. This includes Nettie Harris, head of housekeeping for more than 30 years.

“She was the Highlander Motor Inn, the epitome of the place,” Bayne says. “When I think of [the motel], I think of my father and her. She’s family.”

When asked if he plans to watch the demolition of his family’s long-time business, he was noncommittal. But he will certainly share one last memory in front of the building before it comes down, commemorating the end of an era.

“I’m going to take pictures of it before it happens,” Bayne says. “And there will be one final picture before it gets torn down with me, my wife, and my kids.”

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Arlington County has been working with a pair of local hotels in an effort to keep vulnerable populations safe during the pandemic.

Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services is currently renting out the Highlander Motel (3336 Wilson Blvd) in Virginia Square, and previously rented the Days Inn along Columbia Pike, to serve as a quarantine location for people with the virus or at high risk of complications.

Both hotels offer modestly-appointed rooms that have individual HVAC units and are accessible via open air walkways. Among those housed in the hotels are low-income and homeless individuals who have nowhere else to go.

ARLnow previously reported in early April that the Highlander was being looked at as an “alternative site” for temporary COVID-related housing.

“In April 2020, Arlington rented two hotels to provide quarantine/isolation space for low-income individuals who were living in overcrowded or congregate settings, and unable to effectively quarantine or isolate,” Dept. of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick confirmed to ARLnow last week.

“Individuals served are COVID-19 positive, presumed positive, directly exposed, or at high risk of complications due to health conditions,” Larrick said. “To date, the quarantine/isolation hotels have served 108 individuals.”

Larrick said the Days Inn was rented through June 30, but the Highlander is still being rented by the county.

“At the quarantine/isolation hotel, there are currently 39 individuals being housed, occupying 38 rooms,” Larrick said last week. “Four of these individuals are COVID-19 positive; 5 of these individuals are presumed positive; and the remainder of the individuals (30) are at the Highlander due to their high-risk status.”

Such utilization is considered a best practice for preventing the spread of disease. Other cities and counties have similarly rented hotels for coronavirus-related uses.

The use of the hotels came to light after ARLnow received a series of tips from local residents. Some noted that the Highlander had no vacancy and was booked solid indefinitely — unusual during a pandemic that has hit the hotel industry hard. Others, who live near the hotel, noted a frequent presence of police officers and county employees.

On Friday, July 31, there was a particularly jarring scene: several police vehicles and people in full hazmat suits in the Highlander parking lot.

“There are police there currently in gas masks and hazmat suits,” said a resident who contacted ARLnow. “I live in the area and am concerned that no one has been notified of what’s going on.”

“This is a frequent occurrence,” the resident said of the police presence. “I inquired with the county about what is going on but they told me they could not give me an answer.”

Larrick and a police spokeswoman said what the resident saw on July 31 was a death investigation — one of the hotel occupants died of suspected non-COVID-related natural causes.

“At approximately 9:56 a.m. on July 31, police were dispatched to the report of a possible death,” stated an Arlington County Police Department crime report. “Upon arrival, an adult male was located deceased inside a hotel room. Cause of death will be determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Based on the preliminary investigation, the death is not considered suspicious.”

Larrick said that the county is grateful to the owners of the hotels — including Billy Bayne, owner of the Highlander and frequent critic of the county, who “really stepped up and helped” by providing a service that other hotel operators might have shied away from.

“The County truly appreciates how these businesses stepped up in the pandemic crisis to address an emerging community need,” Larrick said. “This space has undoubtedly helped us keep people safe and contain the spread in the community.”

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Arlington is rolling marijuana in with efforts to prevent opioid abuse, but some see the anti-weed campaign as outdated.

Nicole Merlene, a former state Senate candidate and an ARLnow columnist, noted on Twitter that Arlington is promoting a campaign called ‘NoWeedArlington.org’, which links back to a county health department page on the dangers of marijuana.

“Despite the fact that marijuana is legalized in many states, marijuana still poses many health risks including the risk for addiction,” the page says. “The surgeon general has put out a warning related to marijuana use – specifically related to the risks of marijuana use during adolescence.”

Kurt Larrick, assistant director of the Arlington Department of Human Services, said the campaign is meant specifically to prevent marijuana use among children and teenagers, and is part of a larger effort to prevent opioid abuse.

“The ad is an awareness campaign against marijuana use by youth,” Larrick said. “The information conveyed in the message is directly from the current Surgeon General’s message of the negative impact of marijuana use on the adolescent developing brain. The correlation between early marijuana use and opioid abuse later in life is a commonly known fact within prevention/substance use literature.”

Larrick said the campaign was not launched in response to the impending decriminalization of marijuana in Virginia.

The movement towards decriminalizing marijuana has also taken hold at a local level, with Commonwealth Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti ousting an incumbent last year with promises to stop prosecuting marijuana cases, among other reforma. Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano was elected in Fairfax with a similar platform.

“This ad has nothing to do with ‘decriminalization’ or ‘legalization’ of marijuana,” Larrick said. “The ad was developed by [Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative] and Prevention with support/approval from DHS leadership. The ad is supported by SOR (State Opioid Response) funds and approved by the grant administrator.”

Larrick said the County’s position and its partnership with other local organizations is longstanding and also addresses other underage drug abuse issues.

“Arlington County, the Department of Human Services, Arlington Public Schools, and our community partners — including the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, the Ready Coalition, and the Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative have long been on the same page when it comes to the harmful impact of marijuana on the teenage brain,” Larrick said. “We have also partnered on initiatives related to underage drinking, smoking, and vaping.”

While the legalization of marijuana is lighting up across the U.S., the impacts of marijuana use on brain development remains a topic of study.

Photo by Roberto Valdivia on Unsplash

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Among the ripple effects of COVID-19 is the psychological strain of isolation. While Arlington works to combat the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, the county is also launching initiatives to address the mental impact.

“We have a lot going on in terms of mental health programs and supports as we navigate through coronavirus,” said Kurt Larrick, assistant director of Arlington’s Department of Human Services.

Larrick said coronavirus has forced the DHS to adapt to new methods of checking in and helping those in need. Therapy and case management are being provided via telehealth tools. Day programs, like Clarendon House, Arlington Weaves, and Arlington Adult Day Program, cannot meet in person so staff is checking in with clients on a daily or weekly basis, Larrick said.

“We just started to pilot a friendly caller program (staring with Meals on Wheels recipients) where we get callers to check in on individuals in the program to help combat loneliness and isolation,” Larrick said. “Since Meals on Wheels switched to weekly deliveries instead of daily deliveries, there isn’t as much interpersonal interaction for people in the program. The friendly caller program addresses this issue.”

Larrick also said DHS has also started Monday-Thursday free online meditation for clients.

For the general public, Larrick said Arlington County has put together a new webpage devoted to connecting people to mental wellness resources and self-care tips during the pandemic. That’s in addition to the county’s updated “Get Help Guide.

“At DHS we haven’t really shut down at all, instead switching to the Assistance from a Distance model to continue to serve clients,” Larrick said. “We have implemented a number of new techniques to stay connected with people and adjusted programs as needed. For people who were facing challenges before COVID — whether that’s employment, food, housing, health, anxiety, substance use, or other behavioral health issues — it’s been an even greater challenge during the pandemic.”

Larrick said people should feel free to call the Arlington Behavioral Healthcare Services Emergency Line at 703-228-5160 or the Children’s Behavioral Healthcare Outpatient Services at 703-228-1560 to seek help.

“We are working hard to support community members and encourage everyone to reach out to friends, family, loved ones, co-workers, neighbors, etc. (safely, of course) to stay connected and remind people that while they may be physically distant, they are not alone,” Larrick said. “For those who need us, we are open and ready to help.”

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There may be initial talks about planning for a limited reopening of the regional economy, but coronavirus cases are still rising in Arlington at a steady clip.

According to the latest Virginia Dept. of Health data, there are now 722 known cases of COVID-19 in Arlington, 120 hospitalizations, 24 deaths and 2,784 test results received. That’s up from 686 cases yesterday (Thursday) and 485 cases a week ago.

Statewide, the Commonwealth has 11,594 reported cases, 1,837 hospitalizations, 410 deaths and 69,015 people tested.

The number of reported outbreaks in Arlington has remained steady at 10, with half of those at long-term care facilities. Nursing homes, retirement communities and similar settings have been a major source of infections and fatalities nationwide, though states and localities have been reluctant to reveal which facilities have outbreaks.

ARLnow previously reported cases in at least 2-3 local assisted living facilities and has continued to receive tips about outbreaks, but has not been able to receive confirmation from local authorities.

An Arlington Dept. of Human Services declined another request rom ARLnow this week for more granular data, but did provide some additional information about the county health department’s response.

“A core team of Aging and Disability Services and Public Health administrative and clinical staff work collaboratively to provide routine COVID outreach to each of the Arlington long term care communities,” said DHS spokesman Kurt Larrick. “These communities include 4 nursing homes and 6 Assisted Living and 5 Independent Living Senior Residences.”

“A Public Health Nurse checks in each day (or more as needed) with the high risk COVID communities to provide guidance, education, and resource linkages,” Larrick continued. “We have developed electronic tools to closely track, monitor symptoms, and follow up accordingly across all the communities. The two DHS divisions work closely together to push out vital COVID information and resources weekly. There is also a daily PPE tracking tool to monitor the PPE needs across the communities. We have been successful in proactively supporting each community through this collaborative effort.”

Among the local assisted living facilities with confirmed outbreaks is Brookdale Arlington, in the Virginia Square neighborhood. A tipster described to ARLnow a significant outbreak in the high-rise facility that has resulted in multiple deaths.

A spokeswoman for the publicly-traded company previously confirmed multiple COVID-19 cases in the facility, but did not provide confirmation of the latest figures as of publication time.

“Brookdale’s top priority is the health and safety of our residents and associates,” the spokeswoman said previously. “We are diligently monitoring our residents and associates for signs and symptoms, and we continue to work directly with local health officials to help ensure our residents and associates have the appropriate and necessary medical support. We will continue to follow the guidance of the Arlington County Public Health Division throughout this situation.”

On Thursday, signs posted on the front door of the facility said no visitors were allowed, people in the lobby could be seen wearing personal protective equipment, and note from family members to a resident was taped to a window.

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) There are now just under 400 known coronavirus cases in Arlington.

The number of cases continued to rise over the weekend, with Saturday seeing Arlington’s steepest increase in cases — 37 — so far during the pandemic. The past two days have seen more modest increases.

The current case count in Arlington stands at 390, up from 203 a week prior, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. Statewide, VDH is reporting 5,747 cases, 903 hospitalizations and 149 deaths, with 41,401 people tested.

VDH has also released additional local data about outbreaks and testing.

According to the state health department, 1,913 people have been tested and 35 have been hospitalized in Arlington. There have been eight reported “outbreaks” in Arlington, including:

  • 5 in long-term care facilities, like assisted living centers and nursing homes
  • 2 in congregate settings, like apartments, churches, and workplaces
  • 1 in a healthcare setting, like medical offices and fire/EMS facilities

Senior centers, assisted living facilities and nursing homes are a particular concern.

“Nearly 2,500 long-term care facilities in 36 states are battling coronavirus cases, according to data gathered by NBC News from state agencies, an explosive increase of 522 percent compared to a federal tally just 10 days ago,” NBC News reported on Friday. “The toll of these outbreaks is growing. NBC News tallied 2,246 deaths associated with long-term care facilities, based on responses from 24 states. This, too, is an undercount; about half of all states said they could not provide data on nursing home deaths, or declined to do so.”

Statewide data from VDH, sorted by age group, shows that while hospitalizations are more distributed, deaths are highly concentrated among those ages 60 and above — 91%.

In Arlington, at least 2-3 assisted living and senior living facilities have reported coronavirus cases, ARLnow hears.

A memo obtained by ARLnow dated April 5 describes someone testing positive at one of two Sunrise Senior Living facilities in Arlington.

“I’m writing to share that this morning we were notified about a positive COVID-19 diagnosis in our community,” the memo said. “We are following guidance from the CDC and local department of health in Arlington as well as closely coordinating with our corporate leadership teams to implement additional precautions in our community.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.

Regency Care of Arlington, in Pentagon City, also has an outbreak, according to a tipster, though that could not be immediately confirmed.

The Brookdale Senior Living community in Virginia Square, meanwhile, has a confirmed outbreak.

“Brookdale’s top priority is the health and safety of our residents and associates,” a spokeswoman told ARLnow in a statement. “We can confirm that more than one member of our Brookdale Arlington community has tested positive for COVID-19. We have informed residents, their family members, and associates of Brookdale Arlington of this matter.”

“We are diligently monitoring our residents and associates for signs and symptoms, and we continue to work directly with local health officials to help ensure our residents and associates have the appropriate and necessary medical support,” the company added. “We will continue to follow the guidance of the Arlington County Public Health Division throughout this situation.”

Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services as repeatedly declined requests from ARLnow to provide more specific information about where cases are being reported. The department issued the following statement on Friday.

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Morning Notes

Reminder: Tap Water Change Today — “The District of Columbia, Arlington County and northeastern Fairfax County will clean out their tap water network starting Monday — a safe, annual process. Service continues uninterrupted during the process, which runs from March 30 through May 4. During that time, drinking water in the may taste slightly different. But the purification process remains unchanged and the water is essentially unchanged.” [ARLnow]

Jail Takes Extra Precautions — “We have created a unit that is strictly for all new individuals that are committed to the jail. These individuals are ‘quarantined’ from the rest of the population for an initial 14 days and checked daily by our Medical Staff. With the Detention Center population being low, we were able to move inmates around, creating the safest environment for those individuals that have been remanded to our custody and for new individuals entering the facility.” [Arlington County]

Human Services from a Distance — “Arlington’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is taking steps to provide services that don’t require in-person visits in an effort to contribute to the community slowdown of the spread of COVID-19.” [Arlington County]

Post Editorial Assails Arlington Judges — “Parisa Dehghani-Tafti last fall ran for commonwealth’s attorney on a promise of criminal justice reform, and voters in Arlington County and Falls Church chose her — and that platform — over the longtime, tough-on-crime incumbent. Now her efforts to deliver on her promise of progressive justice have run into opposition from judges who have taken highly unusual — and some say inappropriate — steps to undermine her discretion as the jurisdiction’s top elected prosecutor.” [Washington Post]

Shirlington Circle Closure in Place — “The northern section of the Shirlington Circle bridge over the general purpose and express lanes on I-395 will close from 10 p.m., Sunday, March 29 until midnight, Wednesday night, April 1… Travelers driving north on the I-395 general purpose lanes will not be able to access Shirlington from Exit 6.” [Press Release]

New Cap Gets Arlington Orientation — “When trying to adjust to life in a new city, it can be nice to have a familiar face around to help you. That’s exactly what Brenden Dillon had after he was traded to the Capitals in Joel Ward… Dillon and Ward were teammates in San Jose for three seasons from 2015 to 2018. Dillon credited Ward for helping him get acclimated to Arlington, Va. and the Washington area.” [NBC Sports Washington]

Tree Advocates Worry About Fate of Big Oak — “In the latest in Arlington’s tree wars, homeowners at 5920 N. 35th St. joined with passionate volunteers from the Arlington Tree Action Group to sound alarms over the threat to a towering water oak outside their home of 28 years, which might soon be a tear-down… The owners believe it is Arlington’s tallest outside the national cemetery.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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Officials and activists are asking the county courts to make a newly-proposed mental health jail diversion program more inclusive.

Arlington and Fairfax public defenders joined several advocates during a Thursday evening meeting about the proposal, and urged county officials to broaden the mental illnesses diagnoses accepted in the program and not require plea bargains as a participation requirement.

Brad Haywood, who leads the Office of the Public Defender for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, shared a list of changes his office wants the county to make to the proposal before the county submits the application to the Virginia Supreme Court.

Juliet Hiznay, a special education attorney by training, joined him on Thursday to express concern that only some “serious mental illnesses” were considered shoe-ins for the program, which is called the Behavioral Health Docket.

Hiznay said she was worried that people with developmental disabilities (like ADD or autism) could also benefit from the court-supervised treatment plan, but would be considered “exceptions” under the current eligibility criteria.

Much of the evening focused on discussing whether the county should require participants to plead guilty to their charges before participating in the program (as is currently proposed) or allow them to follow the docket program and then have a trail (as Fairfax County does.)

“Because it requires a guilty plea it literally can’t decriminalize mental illness,” said panelist Lisa Dailey, who analyzes and advises mental illness decriminalization policies at the Treatment Advocacy Center. “So if that’s your goal you’re failing right out of the gate.”

When Arlington Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Lisa Tingle asked Fairfax Public Defender Dawn Butorac asks whether the Fairfax docket convicts participants of their charges if they fail out of the program, Butorac said Fairfax prosecutors set no such deals.

“Telling your client ‘if you fail this is what we’re going to do’ is sending the wrong message,” Butorac said.

Haywood pointed out that another benefit of nixing the pre-plea requirement was getting people into treatment fast — something not possible if the county’s tedious discovery process slows down the process.

Haywood also noted that requiring pleas to participate in the mental health service could lead innocent people to say they were guilty in order to access services. He acknowledged that was an “extreme” hypothetical but could be avoided if the county followed Fairfax County’s example of only contending with pleas after a participant finishes their docket treatment plan.

“We are much more inclusive than Arlington,” Butorac said of Fairfax’s docket, which was created after a mentally ill woman was tasered.  “When we drafted it, we wanted it to be as inclusive as possible.”

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